A family discussion – a truly novel concept.

A Truly Novel Concept- A family discussion about inheritances and eldercare decisions… 

O.k., you’ve been putting off the decision for years.  But, the time has come.  You’ve finally decided to get serious about creating an estate plan with your family.  You even have a name of a good estate planner from a friend of yours who recently had their estate plan done.  So, you take the plunge and call the estate planner to make an appointment to come in and start the estate planning process.

Well, that’s great.

First off, let me congratulate you for being responsible and making an appointment with a qualified estate planner.  That was a very smart move.  I am sure that you and the estate planning attorney will work hard together to craft a well-designed estate plan.

But, let me just throw this thought out there- and trust me it is a truly novel concept….

When you are planning your estate, don’t forget to schedule what might be the most critical meeting of them all…

“What meeting is that?”, you might ask?

The answer… a family meeting.

Now, you might respond… “Preposterous!”, Unheard of!”,”None of their business!!!  “I will not share my estate plan with my kids!”

If that is your reaction, then congratulate yourself for being in the majority of people who don’t want their children/beneficiaries to know about their estate plan.

And, there are good reasons for not letting kids/beneficiaries know your estate plan. For starters, estate plans can change.  Beneficiaries can be written in and out of wills and revocable trusts, and many people don’t want to raise or lower any beneficiary’s expectations when there are so many ways to change and modify estate plans.   Another valid reason is that there is a concern that if a child/beneficiary knows that they will be coming into a sizable inheritance one day, it may dissuade them from applying and pushing themselves to becoming the most productive person they could have been.  And there are many other totally viable and correct reasons not to have that discussion.

The problem is, however, that lack of communication on this subject can hurt/destroy families.  Trust me, we are dealing with some very volatile and emotional decisions, here.   For example, let’s say that you procrastinated about making your burial and funeral arrangements, thinking to yourself that your kids can make the call.  You placate your guilty conscience by telling yourself,  “I’ll be gone anyways, so whatever they want is fine with me.”   Well, what happens if your children have different beliefs (religious, ethical, financial…) in the manner which you should be buried.  One kid believes that you should be buried in the earth, another kid believes that you always wanted to be put into a ornate marble mausoleum, another kid advocates for a quick cremation.   That fight alone could cause your children never to speak to each other again… that is how sensitive and crazy these things can get.   After all, each child believes that they are carrying out your wishes, and you never made yourself heard on the subject.

Don’t put your children to this test.  Don’t make them guess.  Talk to them.  You know your family.  You know what, when, where, and how to discuss these issues with them.

If you are unsure of yourself, just think back to when the children were young.  When they were all living under your roof, I bet that you knew exactly how to have family meetings with them to go over your wishes.   Just because they are older, accomplished, and have families of their own, does not mean that they have stopped looking at you as the authoritative matriarch and patriarch that you are.

The point is- give serious consideration to discussing your estate plan, elder care, and end-of-life decisions with your family.   Take your time to explain your plan to them, so they know that it truly represents your wishes.  Tell them where and how you want to spend your remaining days, and how that will be paid for and managed.  Let them hear from you, and listen to them.  If they have a serious problem or disagreement with what you have done, then now is the time to talk to them about it— because the conversations become painfully one-sided after you are gone.

If you fail to do so, then just know that your are potentially kicking those complaints down the road and putting your family at risk of later falling into the cross-hairs of nasty litigation.   If you feel that a qualified mediator or lawyer would be helpful during the conversation, then bring them along.

As novel as it might seem to have this discussion with your family, it might just be the antidote to save them from destroying themselves later over these issues.  Because remember, at the end of the day, inheritance is poison.